Celebrating Exam Success: The Arts

8th September 2017

This is the fourth piece in the ‘Celebrating Exam Success’ news series, which brings you stories from Pembroke students who performed particularly well in this year’s exams. Each feature celebrates a particular aspect of life at Pembroke. This week we caught up with recent graduates Deon Fang (Jurisprudence, 2014), Chesney Ovsiowitz (English and Modern Languages, 2013) and Charlotte Vickers (English Language and Literature, 2014) who have made a great contribution to the arts whilst studying at Pembroke…

Deon particularly enjoyed the independence he experienced studying Law, ‘This gave me the chance to experiment with my methods of reading, writing, and studying, as well as with my beliefs about legal theories.’ He found that the flexibility of the course structure allowed him to take advantage of the wealth of extra-curricular opportunities available at Oxford. 

Deon participated in an array of extra-curricular activities including: moot court competitions, research for a think tank project on legal pluralism, and he also advised Oxford’s independent student publishing house on their legal matters. But his activity also extended beyond his subject. He was president of Out of the Blue, a student a cappella group that’s unique in its commercial operations. Deon gigged in Oxford, across the UK and internationally, in Sweden, Malta, the US, India and elsewhere!

‘We conducted workshops for schoolchildren and adults, took part in competitions against other singing groups, gave interviews to the national and international press, and communicated with fans over social media and in person. We also created music videos, corporate advertisements, merchandise, and an annual studio album…

When I was President of the group, I oversaw all of this with the help of the group’s members and with advice from alumni. The financial independence was meaningful because we donated all our profits to the Oxford charity Helen and Douglas House, in addition to our regular visits to their children’s hospice.’  

His work with Out of the Blue provided a welcome balance to life at Oxford and also equipped him with excellent skills for the future. ‘My various responsibilities allowed me to exercise skills in managing people, handling risks, and balancing duties— academic and otherwise. Out of the Blue in particular was a humbling experience, especially when hearing from fans who got through difficult times with our music. This brought special meaning to my often frenetic days in libraries and evenings in practice rooms, and forced me to keep a wider perspective when I got caught up in the stresses of my course.

Deon is keen to quash the notion of the Oxford ‘stereotype’; he hopes that prospective applicants are not put off by false preconceptions. ‘Oxford is more varied than the media often suggests, and much of the benefit of being here lies in people’s diversity of thought, background, and passions. In particular, Pembroke Law provides a fantastic environment to grow, especially under the supervision and care of Professor Rebecca Williams. I’m grateful for the support I received, both in its own right and for giving me a better legal education.’

Chesney also found great freedom in his course, which allowed him to choose papers from each subject (English and French) that complimented each other and suited his personal academic interests… ‘believe it or not, Middle English religious theatre and nineteenth-century French drama have more in common than you might think!’ he remarked.

Like Deon, Chesney’s artistic outputs have enabled him to travel internationally. As a member of the Chapel Choir he toured to Ljubljana in Slovenia, and closer to home he also performed in Masters' Recitals at Pembroke. Chesney performed in numerous dramatic productions, winning the University prize for Best Supporting Actor in the OUDS Drama Cuppers for his role in Pembroke’s production, ‘Waiting for Guacamole’.

He also played the Wolf in ‘Into the Woods’ (2014) and John Utterson in ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, both at Pembroke. Additionally, he was a Trustee of the Pembroke JCR Art Fund for three years, and as JCR Vice-President he worked hard to encourage music and drama activities within and beyond College. On a university level, he played parts in various musicals at the Keble O'Reilley theatre, and was a member of the acapella group ‘The Oxford Alternotives’, with whom he performed in a five-star run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

Chesney attributes great value to the impact of these activities to both his personal and academic life, ‘As well as meeting new people within and beyond Pembroke, I gained a wider perspective on my study of literature and, in particular, theatre. It is no coincidence that many of the subject choices I made throughout my degree were related to performance, the stage, and theatricality. It is not true to say that being in a Sondheim musical inspired my Shakespeare portfolio, or that singing in a choir helped my understanding of French rhyme; rather, having my extra-curricular and academic interests exist within the same broad space provided the rare opportunity for them to play off each other.’

Thinking of applying? Here are Chesney’s tips: ‘For someone applying for so broad a course as English and Modern Language, I would advise finding an interest you can use to create links across time, place, culture, and language. Finding your own trail to follow across and between seemingly unrelated literatures is rewarding, and demonstrates a desire to make intelligent links beyond conventional boundaries.’

Charlotte particularly enjoyed her final year at Pembroke because of the depth of study she was able to undertake: ‘With English, in your final year you do three ‘coursework’ papers. Of these, I really loved the Shakespeare paper, in which you write three essays about any aspect of Shakespeare – one of mine was about Shakespeare in all-female performance, and I really enjoyed being able to go and watch lots of plays and call it my degree!’

In her spare time Charlotte undertook a great variety of responsibilities in student drama, from directing and stage-managing to marketing. Her work in this field began when she was assistant director of Pembroke’s Jekyll and Hyde in her first year, after that her involvement in University-wide productions really took off.

She remarked, ‘I dragged a lot of my friends in with me, and made new friends outside of college. Balancing both your studies and your extra-curricular activity is hard, there’s no denying, but both are so rewarding that I wouldn’t have had it any other way.’

This experience really enhanced her academic studies, ‘I particularly found this in third year, when directing a production of Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Edward II’ at the Oxford Playhouse. The research I did while directing the show massively influenced the way I thought about the play, and consequently, the way I wrote about it for my finals. Directing has enabled me to develop so much as a person: in the way I think about the world around me, in how I communicate with others, and in my confidence in myself and my own abilities.’

Here is Charlotte’s advice for those thinking of applying to read English at Oxford. ‘It’s a cliché, but for a reason: read as much as you can. Start to think about everything you read critically, and in ways that might not occur to you – for me a big thing was working out both what literature I liked, and why I liked it. This works the other way too, if you hate something, try to work out why. Sometimes the best literary insights can come from you establishing why you really disliked a text.’

And when it comes to the personal statement, she suggests treating it like a springboard, ‘remember that the people interviewing you have no idea what you’ve read or studied apart from what you’ve given them, so make sure it’s something you’re genuinely interested in and can discuss with them at length.

Charlotte Vickers (English Language and Literature, 2014)
Charlotte Vickers (English Language and Literature, 2014)
Chesney Ovsiowitz (English and Modern Languages, 2013)
Chesney Ovsiowitz (English and Modern Languages, 2013)
Deon Fang (Jurisprudence, 2014)
Deon Fang (Jurisprudence, 2014)